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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Looking Back: Thinking Forward - Part 8 and Conclusion 

This is part 8 and the conclusion of an extended article reviewing early blog entries and what I have learned from them.

Reputation

Reputation hinges on credibility and credibility to perceptions on truthfulness. Preserving reputation is at the core of what PR does. Therefore, I watched for instances where reputation has been harmed. Some were personal like an adventure with a cell phone provider (8/20/2003). Some are industry related like the travails of the RIAA (9/11/2003), which I unfairly criticized. Still other blog comments focused on companies having reputational problems, such as Wal-Mart (11/18/2003), Freddie Mac (6/30/2003), airlines (2/26/2003) and Wall Street firms facing $1 billion in penalties for misleading financial analysis (12/20/2003). There were as well embarrassing incidents that sparked comment, such as a Roman Catholic university that had the name of a donor, who is also a convicted felon, on a building (12/23/2002). The issue was when the university could remove the donor’s name without infuriating him but at the same time downplay the fact that it had taken money from a crook. I blogged as well on issues with reputational implications for the Internet. Among these were advertorials masquerading as editorial copy on Web sites (12/04/2002).

I should have written more about reputation than I did. There are numerous instances when companies and individuals have wrecked or boosted their reputations through choice and action. PR practitioners should be aware of them as they work with their own internal and external clients.

Where To?

Constantin Basturea suggests that I am commenting on too little. He would like to add two more topics to the mix:

* PR Education
* The gap between PR practitioners and academics.

I have commented on PR education but only generally. I am against majors in PR. Some of the best PR practitioners I know come from disciplines other than PR, to include law, newspaper reporting, brain science, etc. What they bring is thorough grounding and credibility in a discipline and content outside of PR that informs PR principles. I have long thought PR training should come after experience in business or in a discipline other than public relations. Further, it should be about a year in length in which mature students are drilled in principles, news writing, presentation, strategy, and a graded hands-on project. It could be done as an online course, an extension program or an on-campus experience. Emphasis would be placed on practical implementation. This does not displace theory or research – far from it. PR is need of better grounding in the sciences and in measurement.

As for the gap between PR practitioners and academics, I am not qualified to speak of the differences at the moment. I no longer teach at a university level. However, many PR programs have former PR practitioners teaching in them and/or leading them. This might mean that the gap is not so great as one might imagine, but it would take a different blogger to handle this topic well.

There is one failure in blogging that I have yet to overcome -- a lack of reader comment. I get some but not nearly as many as Slashdot gets on a slow day. In reflecting on the reasons for few comments, I conclude there might be a combination of three reasons for the low number:

* Few care about what I blog.
* There aren’t many PR blog readers.
* PR readers are not commenters.

It is possible that topics on which I concentrate result in low readership. During the initial burst of PR blogs, most PR bloggers were speculating on what to do with the medium. I did not join that discussion. The second issue of the number of PR blog readers is difficult to assess. I only know there are many more now than when I started. Still, there might not be enough yet to spark commentary. The last reason I derived from reading PR blogs. I noticed that most lack comments. I will continue to try to stimulate discussion because it is largely through multiple views that tough challenges are elucidated. PR needs more discussion, not less.

Constantin Basturea has a different take on the lack of comment:

…I'm not sure how many PR blog readers are out there; but I think that people are more inclined to leave comments when they disagree with an idea, or if they are able to add something to the discussion….Another reason for the lack of comments might be the fact that PR people -who are not bloggers- are not forthcoming in expressing their opinions and engaging in public discussions about PR. I don't have hard data to back this up, but what I noticed from the statistics about the number of visitors for PR Blog Week (1 and 2) is that a lot of people have visited the weblog and read the articles, although a very small number dared to comment. Not everybody is comfortable with leaving comments on the web yet.So, why aren't more (PR) bloggers commenting, then? Maybe because you're not commenting too often on the issues debated in the PR blogosphere; or maybe because you're not leaving comments on other blogs, or link to them and notify them via trackbacks - which will invite to reciprocation.

I partially agree with Constantin’s view. Where I differ is in his last paragraph where he suggests that I don’t leave comments on other blogs or link to them, etc. I differ in that I am concerned about contributing to a sub-culture of bloggers who speak only to themselves rather than a larger community of practitioners who discuss issues affecting PR. My worry is based on early experience with online discussion dating back to the 1980s – before the web was invented. There was a forum on CompuServe called PRSIG (Public Relations Special Interest Group.) It started off well but over time deteriorated to a small group that eventually withered. (This seems to be the fate of many such groups.) The question is how to stimulate discussion among a broad range of participants. I have no answer for that.

I believe there is a need for commentary that gets outside of PR industry dynamics and looks at issues in the larger world, but then my belief might be a minority view. I will continue to look at topic areas summarized here. This, however, raises an issue. Perhaps with my magpie mind, I am attempting too much. Wouldn’t it better if I blogged just one or two issues rather than 11? Say, credibility and reputation? That is a question I should consider, but on the other hand, as Peter Shinbach pointed out to me, I would defeat the primary purpose of the blog announced at the beginning. There are no easy answers.

Blogging is an education for me. I hope it is for you.


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